Say hello to Earth's newest neighbor! Actually, it's probably been there for millions of years, but we just now have the scientific knowledge to see it.
Astronomers at Queen Mary University of London announced on Wednesday that they believe Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system, has at least one terrestrial planet in its orbit. Proxima Centauri B is a roughly-spherical rock going around a star that is about the same size as our own roughly-spherical rock going around a star.
If you're into space science, this is a pretty big deal, and many on social media could hardly contain their excitement.
As with almost every scientific discovery, it's usually unwise to get too excited because there's almost always a giant "actually" on the horizon. In this case, the "actually" is planet-sized.
Four light years might sound like very little, but that works out to about 25 trillion miles. Remember the New Horizons probe that passed Pluto last year? That was 2.66 billion miles away and it took the probe ten years to get there. Not exactly a hop, skip and a jump. And that's before you get to the long odds of the planet being remotely habitable, given that it orbits a red dwarf star (long story short: the sun it ain't).
Everyone's favorite astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has not yet brought his particular Debbie Downer charm to this issue, but plenty on social media were ready to deflate the Proxima Centauri B hype balloon.
Those are the realities of the situation, but they still don't diminish what is a groundbreaking revelation: that our nearest stellar neighbor has a planet. Even with the unfeasible distance, many are already looking to book a trip.
Look, you build it, and I will 100% be on board for a colony ship to Proxima b. Let's go let's go let's gooo.
— Jason P. Kaplan (@JasonPKaplan) August 24, 2016